Thornwatch, which is already over four times funded on Kickstarter (that’s over $300,000 dollars folks), is a card based adventure game set in the Eyrewood, a world spanning mystical forest brought to you by the folks at Penny Arcade and Lone Shark Games. When the forest is in danger from the forces of “The Ebb” the residents can tie a knot of brier around a birch to summon the “Thornwatch” a group of powerful spirits bound to defend the Eyrewood.
The game seems to be a bit of an ambitious hybrid. There’s already a “print and play” version available for free, so I downloaded the rules and gave it a once over. While the game has roots (pun intended?) in RPGs, it’s actually more similar to games like Descent or Imperial Assault. The players aren’t so much in a free form world as they complete story missions. Each mission–set up by a storyboard which resembles a page from a graphic novel, and includes the story and rules for a specific encounter–can be played alone or in sequence. As the players win or lose, the game can continue onto other storyboards which extend the narrative, or players can quit for now and come back where they left off.
One person plays as the “judge,” a sort of game master. They’ll set up the game and control the monsters and challenges. While much of the game is card based there are also dice, some of which have “ebb” faces which give the judge extra resources when rolled. This is similar to the overlord in Descent. It’s one part antagonist and two parts dungeon master.
The rest are members of the Thornwatch and move their characters around the map, defeating bad guys and saving innocents. Each character has a deck of cards representing their powers. This is similar to the recent hit RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command, but also seems to borrow more hand management and deck control from games like Sentinels of the Multiverse.
The characters, which represent iconic spirits of the forest, are meant to be interchangeable and impermanent. Someone might play the Blade one session and the Greenheart the next. Characters don’t advance, they are already as powerful as they will ever be. Instead, players themselves advance by collecting knots. Knots are the boons won by completing a specific session of play. They are literally knots of string, with the instructions used to tie them being given out as the prize for winning. Players (again, not characters) are then allowed to wear the knot on their person to future sessions which grants them additional game benefit. There’s a social media component too. Check out this video for more info on the game…
There’s a lot of levels to this game, more then I can easily encapsulate here and it has an odd maturity and heady high minded mechanics. It may not be the game for your “murder hobo” RPG players, and perhaps with its tactical card game roots, it might not be for serious “acting out” roleplayers either. Or it may very well be what both have been looking for. I can tell you this, for the audience of players who have been unknowingly waiting for exactly this kind of game, it’ll be world changing. Will it have people going to conventions wearing knots tied to their sweatshirt strings? Who knows? It’s certainly an amazing development for a game that apparently started as a custom D&D mod and grew out from there.
Are you interested in this latest game form Penny Arcade? What intrigues you about the Eyrewood universe? Would you tie a knot on your clothes for extra powers in a game? Let us know in the comments.